Boatbuilder Chris-Craft has been increasing activity in the past year, hiring key people including vice president of sales Gavan Hunt, formerly of Cobalt Boats; Northeastern and Midwestern Regional Sales Director Norm Kraus, formerly of MasterCraft; and Southern and Western Regional Sales Director Justin Short formerly of Yamaha.
Since adding Hunt, the brand has released several new boat models and added a dozen new dealers. The five-year plan at Chris-Craft reflects a vision to “build boats that stand out in the sea of sameness.” As CEO/President Stephen Heese says, “By following the crowd, you get no further than the crowd.”
Chris-Craft recently received the site plan approval for, roughly, an additional 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The company’s objectives include increasing sales to over $100 million and expanding the brand’s distribution through additions of "high-quality dealers" and maintaining its current network, a vision driven by Heese and the company’s chairman Stephen Julius.
This includes the marketing team – led by marketing director Allison Scharnow, formerly of Marine Max – creating a new dealer portal, a new website and increasing social and digital marketing efforts. The company says the amount of sales leads directed to dealerships has been substantially improved.
“We want to provide the right tools to assist our dealers by maximizing sales opportunities,” said Hunt. “We’ve made it simpler to do business with us in the last several months and we will continue to focus on those initiatives that improve dealer and customer relations.”
We sat down with Hunt to discuss recent changes at Chris-Craft and the company’s plans going forward in 2017.
Boating Industry: Since you joined Chris-Craft last June, what have been your principal goals for the brand as vice president of sales?
Hunt: We created a long task list that started with immediate changes necessary for the process of growing. We’re a company that has done very well, but we haven’t had a major sales growth plan in place until recently. We’re well capitalized so we can grow as needed, so we’ve put a more progressive strategy together for a new five-year plan. One of those tasks has been to fill the open markets with quality dealers. Many of our new dealers are [Boating Industry] Top 100 dealers, and we’re excited about that group of people who will help us grow our business in the future.
Chris-Craft recently added 12 dealers to its network. How do those dealers fit into the cultural profile of the Chris-Craft brand?
There’s an old saying that “distribution is king and product is queen.” The reality is that we have to have quality dealers in each market. … You can have the strongest brand in the world and an amazing product offering, but without a team of individuals dedicated to building your brand, you’re spinning your wheels.
What kind of dealers are you looking to add to the Chris-Craft family? What are some qualifications or attributes of the dealers you’re hoping to add to the network?
We are adding dealers that have the expertise to represent our ultra-premium brand, which starts with a heritage of service excellence. Service sells, and those dealers that excel at service usually excel at sales. In addition, the idea of having a dealership that can develop a brand in an area through their marketing efforts and the strength of their dealership’s brand is also tremendously important. … We’re a small company and our goals are very conservative. We’re not looking to be all things to all people by any stretch of the imagination. We’re signing quality dealers who will embrace the Chris-Craft by wowing customers with our excellent products.
Do you see a higher demand in the marketplace right now for “legacy” brands like Chris-Craft? Particularly with a subset of young people, there seems to be a lot of interest in “nostalgia” products and Chris-Craft fits right into that portfolio.
Well, authenticity and heritage are part of what our brand thrives on, and so part of what we do is reflect on the heritage of this brand with our product development and marketing as we move forward. We need to be true to our brand: the shapes, the nuances of design, the throwback burgee on the bow. These are the details that hit your nostalgia bone, and those are the things that inspire people to move. Because at the end of the day, we’re not just building a boat, we’re building a form of nautical art. The real test of boat brand and a boat’s design is in the question, will one day somebody want to restore this boat? Our goal is to design and build products that are worth restoring in 50 years.
What further expansion plans does Chris-Craft have for 2017?
We’ve increased the size of our facility. In fact, we just finished a new 16,000-square-foot plant expansion. We’ve recently purchased a new $500,000 paint booth. We have expanded our production team – adding key members Matt McGinnis (formerly of Correct Craft) and Adam Garthaus (formerly of Cabo/Hatteras). We really have an all-star team capable of doing the job and growing. Our R&D team has multiple products on the drawing board so that we’re going to be aggressively pursuing additional new product development projects. All of us at Chris-Craft are really excited about what the future holds – these are exciting times.